Columbia School Board discusses tax levy, Hickman block schedule

Friday, July 29, 2011 | 6:50 p.m. CDT; updated 7:58 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 29, 2011

COLUMBIA — Building on earlier discussions, the Columbia School Board looked more closely Thursday at whether to push for a property tax levy increase of 60 cents.

The district's current levy is $4.69 per $100 of assessed valuation, according to previous Missourian reports. A 60-cent increase would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $114 per year. The owner of a $1 million commercial property would pay an additional $1,920 per year.

Such an increase would ultimately be up to voters, Columbia Public School District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.

If a 60-cent tax levy increase is implemented in 2012-13, it would generate more than $9.5 million in revenue that would be used to address items such as reducing class sizes, updating technology and maintaining facilities.

Board members voiced their concerns that without a levy increase, more programs would be at risk — specifically clubs, tutoring and mental health support.

The members acknowledged the difficulty and urgency of making budget decisions. “It is not popular to talk about the word tax; it just isn't,” board newcomer Helen Wade said.

Echoing concerns he raised in May, Superintendent Chris Belcher said, “If we don’t act this year, we might have to make a quick response to a budget dip in the future instead of a planned one.”

Belcher said an important issue is the need for high schools to become wireless in no longer than two years because "that is where the technology trend is headed."

Belcher also said the district's 150 or so trailer classrooms are beginning to fail, and he hopes to get rid of them — particularly noting their lack of energy efficiency. Baumstark said the absence of bathrooms meant children had to go from the trailers into the school building and back again, resulting in a waste of class time.

Block schedule at Hickman?

In addition to the property tax levy, the board spent the most time talking about possibly implementing a block schedule at Hickman High School in the 2012-2013 school year.

The schedule would have two "Purple Days" and two "Gold Days" during which classes would last for 90 minutes. Fridays would be "Kewpie Days" during which students would attend all of their classes for less time. Hickman's colors are purple and gold, and its mascot is the Kewpie.

The block schedule would include some daily classes, such as Spanish or choir, because teachers think they need attention each day, Hickman Principal Tracey Conrad said.

She supports the schedule change. Benefits of the block include: flexibility in student schedules, fewer transitions during the day and more time for in-class support such as advising, study halls and academic preparation, she said.

“What our kids tell us over and over is they need more time,” Conrad said. An aim of the block schedule would be to allow students holding jobs or involved in extracurricular activities more time to get homework and studying done, she said.

Conrad noted that fewer transitions during the school day would mean less opportunity for altercations in the halls and a "dramatic reduction" in truancy.

A main concern parents have is whether their children would have a harder time paying attention during the 90-minute blocks, Conrad said. That's 40 minutes longer than current classes. Her solution: make classes more engaging.

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